My weightlifting story

I started out as a CrossFitter who was enamored with the power clean from the minute I learned it. Just a few months later I was able to do Grace at 85# in under 5 minutes – not too bad for a beginner.

I loved the barbell, and it seemed to love me back.

But over a year later, I had nearly the same time for a 95# Grace. And my power clean had been maxed out at 125# for about a year as well.

I wanted heavier weight on that barbell, so it was time for action. I scheduled a 1-on-1 session with Coach Aimee during a trip to visit family at my home-away-from-home, CrossFit King of Prussia. Spending one hour with her on my clean was simultaneously devastating and empowering. I had known I needed help, but I didn’t know my technique was so awful and I was so clueless!

It was a difficult re-entry into the conscious incompetence stage of learning, just when I was starting to feel like I might know what I was doing as a lifter. As discouraged as I was, learning how far I had to go also motivated me to continue to learn and grow as an athlete, and as a coach.

That’s when I took the plunge and joined Sandbox Athletics, and began to train under the direction of weightlifting coaches Doug Lane and Joe Hanson (ADC Jax).

Within a few weeks I had a fancy new pair of weightlifting shoes (Ristos!), and had competed in my first weightlifting meet — the 2010 Joe Dube Classic in Jacksonville, Florida. Earning my first official total felt like the moment I became a “real” weightlifter.  82 kilos wasn’t spectacular, but it was official, and it was mine.

A few weeks later I completed the USAW Level 1 Sports Performance Coach certification, with head instructor Harvey Newton.

At this point, I was on top of the world, learning something new nearly every day about this sport that I was falling in love with, and seeing progress in my lifts.

Things went a little south from there. Years of practicing barbell movements with an extremely hyperextended lumbar spine had left me with a very weak posterior chain, and hardly any ability to effectively utilize my glutes to stabilize my spine. As soon as I began to lift with proper posture in my low back, the smaller muscles that had been overcompensating for my lazy glutes freaked out! I spent the remainder of fall 2010 and winter 2011 dealing with muscle spasm issues in my low back / hip (for anatomy nerds, it was my right QL that was freaking out). I was very fortunate to have an amazing chiropractor who used both soft tissue work and adjustments to assist me in not only recovering, but correcting the underlying postural issues.

My injury let me know that my posture was absolute crap! I was walking around all day with a hyperextended low back, and trying to do CrossFit and weightlifting movements in this crappy position as well. I sent myself back to the ground floor, and relearned all of my basic movements — especially the air squat, back extension, plank and bridge. As I practiced my new weightlifting technique, the bar stayed unloaded, or very light — not only to avoid painful muscle spams, but also to make it possible for me to maintain my new, uncomfortable posture.

By spring things were improving. I was putting a little more weight on the bar, a kilo or two at a time. But then life got in the way of weightlifting.

My break from weightlifting continued into the summer, as I switched my focus to training to run the Marine Corps Marathon in October 2011. I continued to do some CrossFit workouts and a little weightlifting, but very rarely put heavy weight on the bar. I also began a weekly yoga practice that was an excellent reinforcement of the posture work I was already doing.

I did my second weightlifting meet in November 2011, just over a year after my first, and less than a month after my marathon. I was finally uninjured and ready to push my body to see what it could do. It was a huge victory to improve my total by 16 kilos with only 3 weeks of focused training prior to the meet. Not to mention training solo. I lifted in the 69kg weight class, snatched 42kg, clean and jerked 56kg, and totaled 98kg. Some videos: 3rd snatch miss, C&J make.

After the meet, I had a sense of peace that restarting from the ground up had been exactly what I needed to do to be successful in the end, even though it had sometimes felt like so much of the previous year was “wasted”.

My meet triumph coincided with becoming a weightlifting orphan — my husband and I had moved to his new military assignment in North Carolina, leaving my coaches in Florida behind. Hoping to jump start my training in 2012, I did a 4 week seminar with Dawn Hutchinson of CrossFit Wilmington during January. I learned a lot and PR’d all my lifts. (Video – cleans @ 50 and 55kg)

I continued training using Dawn’s programming into the early spring, but with her located an hour’s drive away, my commitment to weightlifting training fizzled out. I basically did CrossFit with a strength bias through the summer, fall and winter.

At the start of 2013 I saw a Facebook post for a meet within driving distance in March, and I knew it was time to get my training back in gear. I began training for the East Carolina Weightlifting Open using a 5 week cycle from Catalyst Athletics. My main goal was to get my official total into the triple digits, and push myself to make some heavy attempts that scared me. With my injury fully behind me, I needed to start to push the limits of my comfort zone.

Once I got focused in the gym and was back to training 5 days a week, the PRs started coming on fast. On February 6th I rack jerked 155# (~70kg), and then on February 9th I PR’d my snatch at 115# (~52kg) and also my C&J at 143# (65kg).

But in the midst of so much weightlifting awesomeness, a whole new opportunity presented itself. I found out that one of my long-time strong woman idols, Gillian Ward, had opened a gym with her husband — Crystal Coast Strength and Conditioning. Her focus was on the Starting Strength program, and powerlifting. So I decided it was time for me to try a linear progression strength cycle, to see where it would take me. My max back squat was at 170 pounds, and my front squat was at 160 — I knew I wasn’t likely to improve my clean and jerk much with those kinds of strength numbers.

For the rest of February I squatted, pressed, benched and deadlifted, plus accessory work, but only practiced my Olympic lifts twice just in the week prior to the meet. But the meet still turned out great! At the 2013 East Carolina Weightlifting Open I lifted in the 75kg weight class, snatched 50kg, clean and jerked 69kg, and totaled 119kg. I didn’t get any videos due to attending the meet on my own. I wish my 3rd snatch attempt had been heavier (it was tough to run my own warm-ups with their setup), but I definitely scared myself trying 69kg on my final C&J. Overall, HUUUGE success and I met the goals I had set for myself.

I ran my linear strength program through the rest of the spring (will post an overview of my LP experience soon), and then continued training with Gillian in the summer. I started to bring the Olympic lifts back into the rotation more and more each week.

But then another new opportunity presented itself — I was so fortunate to become pregnant with my first child in July. Training stopped being about “how heavy can I go?”, and switched to “what weights and movements feel good today?”. I was so fortunate to feel great during pregnancy, and I was able to maintain my schedule of training 3 days a week at CCSC.

In October CCSC decided to host its first Olympic weightlifting meet, and I knew I couldn’t miss being a part of that. My goal for the Emerald Isle Classic was to hit all my openers from my last meet in March. And I was successful in doing that! I moved up to the 75+kg weight class, snatched 45kg, clean and jerked 62kg, and totaled 107kg. Afterwards I was thrilled that I had kept my total in the 3 digits, even at 18 weeks pregnant. I hope my son enjoys watching the video of the meet someday. My favorite part is how my belt is “slung” under my baby bump. 🙂

So this is my competition history, thus far:


I’m writing this post at 27 weeks pregnant (just about to start my 3rd trimester), and last week I snatched 98# (44.5kg) and C&J’d 133# (~60.5kg), so I’m feeling good about the strength I’ve been able to maintain so far. Baby Wiss will be arriving in March or early April, and I plan to be back on a competition platform in the fall of 2014 to see where I’m at.

And I’ll be back on the platform at least once a year, for as long as I can. 🙂

One Comment to “My weightlifting story”

  1. Thanks for sharing this Cheri. What a journey. We miss you bunches

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